Ed fell for days without end, the constant flutter in his belly and tingling in his nether regions a testament to his continual downward progression. He neither sped up nor slowed down, but felt every molecule of air as it rushed past him. He hungered, thirsted, but had neither food nor water. But oh yes, he had waste products flowing out of him! It made for quite the sight.
For a moment, Ed lay there on the warm graveley ground, and assessed the damage. It felt like he had all his bones, with no extras. The fall should have killed him, yet he was conscious of all around him, including, as he opened his eyes, a pair of walking sneakers. Black. Velcro.
"Wel-hell! What have we here?" a male voice, purposely pitched higher into a sing-song tone, rang out in his near-deafened ears. "Hello, newbie."
Ed propped his hands under his shoulders and pushed up a few inches. The struggle to crane his neck upwards took forever and exhausted him. In silhouette, he saw a man of moderate age, wavy-haired with a widow's peak. He blinked, then slowly slid his legs under him to sit up.
"Don't speak, Hughes. You'll need your strength. As you may have gathered, you've had a long journey to an unpleasant place."
Ed tried to open his mouth and shuffle some syllables out, but found he didn't have the strength, sure enough. He let his eyes do the talking, and gave this stranger a blank stare.
"What's that? Three ghosts? So who am I? I'm surprised you haven't figured that one out yet, Amy, but keep pedalling. You're a shoo-in for the big girl X Games. Now, I have to figure out what to do with you..."
The stranger stopped talking, and gaudily rubbed his chin with his hand in a mockery of Ed. "Hmmmmmmmmmm...."
As he stood there, Ed managed to slip his feet under his torso, and began to squat, steadying himself with his palms on the ground.
"No no, newbie! No need to stand up! You have to learn to crawl before you can walk here! So what kind of skills do you have...let's see..." said the stranger as he scanned a clipboard he was carrying. "No. No. No. No. N----ahhhhhhhhhhhh! But no. No. No. No. No. Ever play the harmonica? No? Too bad, we would have use for you in the homophobe wing...no. No. No. Wait! No. No. Nnnnnnnnno! Well, you're pretty mnuch useless to me."
Ed stood up.
"Well, look at you, standing up, all proud of yourself. Bet you want to switch to the pull-up big boy pants now....Look, Hughes, here's the deal: you're a twisted sick son of a bitch who hates nearly everyone, yet has no usable skills. There's a special place for people like you who call the 'waaaaaaaahmbulance' anytime you feel the slightest bit injured, and you're in it. In fact, we have a special level reserved for you. No, no! Don't try to speak! Sit...well, no, because that rock's on fire, and you won't listen then, so stand and listen: Being good didn't mean lecturing other people on being good. It meant, well, being good. MOW-THE-ING the words was meaningless. You had to do good, and live by the teachings to be good. In your case, all you had was your mouth, so guess what? Down here, you lose your voice! Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you, newbie?"
Ed took a deep breath, opened his mouth to speak, but couldn't remember how to form words. Or make sounds. For that matter, he had to force himself to exhale.
"I guess you do. Good. So your challenge throughout eternity is to try to get people to understand you somehow. It ought to be interesting to watch YOU relying on the compassion of other people. But I digress. Didn't it occur to you somewhere along the line that you might want to reconsider making fun of people who are different from you? Who needed your help? You had a platform to use to help people. Instead, you turned it into a weapon that, rather than unify your fellow citizens, served to highlight the differences, segregate the cultures, and ultimately, well, youuuuuuu fucked yourself, newbie, because the very people who could have been praying for your soul are the ones who you needed to persuade The Man Upstairs that you had earned a place at the banquet. I've watched the tape they send down with each newbie. It ain't pretty, the things you did, especially tearing that poor kid apart who lost his father on September 11. That alone, I almost came up to claim your soul for."
"Did you even read the Bible? Damn, son, because if you had, you'd know I was thrown down here for a lot less than you were, and that was before, y'know, the whole 'only begotten son' thing went on. You, you trampled on the Word and picked out the wrong bits to focus on. Honestly, I'm not sure how proud you have to be to focus on the trimmings and not on the main course of the meal. See, life isn't about you. It's about them," said Satan as he swept his arm outward, gesturing to all the other people around him. "Even I got that much. Do good by people, and people will do good by you."
"If it helps, you should have thought about it this way: The afterlife is like one giant game of 'Reverse Survivor', where everyone gets to vote you on the island, but only He can make you come down here. Get it now?"
Ed stared in disbelief, then slowly nodded his head.
"Good...now...about your job down here..."
To Chapter Fifteen